TAMPA – A healthy dose of Cup-winning experience was one of the easily discernible, big difference between the Maple Leafs and Bruins in their seven-game, first-round series. That point was hammered home going in, and lo and behold, it finally came to pass when it mattered most in Game 7.
Just take Bruins rookie D-man Matt Grzelcyk’s word for it with his candid on-ice comments after the Bruins had taken home the 7-4 win over the Leafs with four unanswered goals in the third period on home ice at TD Garden.
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“Down going into the third period there was never a doubt,” said Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in an on-ice interview with NESN after Game 7. “Zee stepped up, [expletive] screaming at us in the locker room and getting us going. So it was amazing.”
That’s right, the stoic, 41-year-old captain of the Bruins who has seen everything and done everything, stepped up to the plate and delivered the verbal jolt that his team needed in the second intermission down 4-3, a time when the team was perhaps lacking in a little bit of that energy and confidence to get the job done.
Still, it was the combination of a belief that the NHL’s best team in the third period would get it done at that time in the game, and it was a future Hall of Famer who's played in a whopping 12 Game 7s stepping up and leading the voices of experience that set up four unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes.
“That’s what it’s all about. It’s a battle, it’s a grind. Game 7,” said Chara. “We were behind on the score sheet. We kind of refocused, really reset our minds and went into the third with the right mindset…with a lot of energy. Putting pucks in the areas where we could retrieve them. We had some great individual efforts to get the lead and tie the game.
“Then we played really strong defensively. And then add that goal. I’m very proud of this group. We showed that resiliency the whole season. We were behind a number of times this season going into the third and we were able to come back. I think that’s just a reflection of this team. How we are able to never give up and keep pushing. I’m very proud of this team and this group.”
Certainly, it was something that’s to be expected given Cup winners Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Adam McQuaid in the Bruins dressing room, but it was nonetheless impressive to Boston’s big group of rookies who took in the entire experience with all its highs and lows.
“I think it starts with the leaders in the room. I think that we had a talk and lots of guys were speaking up and talking about past experiences, and how we didn’t want this group to end
Tonight,” said Jake DeBrusk, who ended up stepping up and scoring the game-winner in that third period. “[The message was], you know, have no doubt and believe in ourselves and it started with that first goal with Torey [Krug]. Obviously, the game took over so it was a very special moment, very special Game 7 for sure, and I’m very happy that we won it.”
All of if the above is perhaps the biggest advantage the Bruins have over the Tampa Bay Lightning headed into their best-of-seven, second series where the Bruins are the distinct underdogs. The Bruins have a contingent that's been there before and been to the mountaintop that has eluded Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh to this point in their NHL careers.
That kind of battle-hardened experience and unwavering belief is something the Bolts can’t possibly have unless they know they can do it, which they have not been able to at this point in their Tampa Bay legacies. The Bruins have to hope and work for a tight series that comes down to a Game 7 scenario again where mettle will be tested, big-game experience will be needed and maybe, just maybe, Chara has at least one more challenging, encouraging intermission speech still ready to be delivered at the exact right point in time from player whose experience and still-formidable ability has turned him into a certifiable weapon as a captain and leader of men.